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The ‘Angelic Quire’: Rethinking Female Voices in Anglican Sacred Music, c. 1889

BLACKMORE, ELIZABETH,NAOMI (2016) The ‘Angelic Quire’: Rethinking Female Voices in Anglican Sacred Music, c. 1889. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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Both academic scholarship and popular wisdom often assume women’s absence from Anglican musical history. However, a range of sources indicates that throughout the period 1700-1900, women sang in parish Anglican choirs – albeit with frequent opposition. This thesis explores the significant yet contested role of female choristers in Church of England choirs during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It pays particular reference to a press controversy, led by the Daily Telegraph that broke out in 1889: the ‘Angelic Quire’ debate.
Chapter One surveys evidence for female choristers in parish Anglican churches during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sources including contemporary literature, visual representations, and Church of England Yearbook and Diocesan records all indicate that female singers were common in parish Anglican churches throughout this period. Chapter Two introduces the ‘Angelic Quire’ debate, exploring how an initially small disagreement over female choristers’ clothing developed into a controversy over whether women should sing in choirs at all. Chapter Three explores the intersections between the ‘Angelic Quire’ debate and contemporary gender politics. It argues that for many correspondents the female chorister was not a radical figure, but sat comfortably within the hegemonic Victorian ideal of angelic femininity. Chapter Four explores the significance of women in church choirs beyond gender politics. It argues that debates over female choristers often invoked issues as broad as class, national identity, and musical genre – even if these often remained unarticulated.
Two conclusions emerge. First, that female choristers had a far greater presence in the Victorian church than has often been recognized. Second, that twentieth century narratives of female absence from sacred music have roots in a complicated knot of nineteenth-century anxieties regarding female choristers. These anxieties extended beyond obvious questions of sex and gender to invoke other, equally significant concerns: unarticulated anxieties regarding Church, nation, and music.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > History, Department of
Thesis Date:2016
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:09 Feb 2016 08:54

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